Is Kindness Practical in a Man’s Life? – and Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People” by Joseph Meglino

I publish this article by my colleague Joseph Meglino, originally part of an Aesthetic Realism public seminar in NYC, for its urgently needed understanding of humanity & people now, and for the way it explains Ibsen’s play, An Enemy of the People.    Anne Fielding

Boyd Gaines in Ibsen's "An Enemy of the People" at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, NYC, 2012
Boyd Gaines in the 2012 Broadway production of Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People”

For centuries, men have pained others and tormented themselves because they have not seen kindness as practical.  I love Aesthetic Realism for teaching that, yes, kindness is practical.  And trying to be kind is the one way we will respect ourselves and be strong.  In fact, the greatest power, I learned, is good will; the desire to use our hearts, minds and bodies to make other people stronger as a means of taking care of ourselves.

In An Outline of Aesthetic Realism, under the heading “Power Is Good and Bad,” Eli Siegel wrote:

When you affect a person…and you respect him more because there is this effect, the power you have is good….Power, had by yourself has two consequences: you respect the person yielding to that power; or you have contempt for him. In the second possibility lies much of the social misery of America and the world.

I.  I Learn about Power and Kindness

Once I felt being kind was foolish and essentially insincere–it meant putting aside yourself to please another. And the only reason for doing that was to get people to like me so I could have my way with them.

I saw power as my being the most important thing in another’s life. I wanted people to long for me, to be desperate for me, while I coolly felt superior and didn’t need anyone. With teachers and friends I acted like I was the most agreeable person: I had a smile for everyone, did all kinds of favors, and gave everyone the message I liked them best. But my purpose was to get people to need me, to see me as indispensable. . . .

A play that can have every man more sure that kindness is the wisest, most practical, most powerful thing we can have is An Enemy of the People of 1882 by the great Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen–excerpts of which I discuss tonight. In this play Ibsen deals with a man’s desire to see kindness as impractical and as an interference to one’s power….   continued 

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